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Thursday, 18 December 2014

Famous Pipe Smokers

Today, since I've become a writer of more renown lately (thanks in part to the efforts of the Goons trying to attack my article, apparently unaware that the more commentary it gets the more prominent it becomes), I thought I'd share with you an entry today of a truly great pipe smoker, like me!

Yes, Ernest Hemmingway was a fairly decent pipe smoker!

Oh yeah, and I wish I could be one-tenth the writer he was.


Currently Smoking: Italian redbark + Image Latakia

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Go Give Blood! There may espresso in it for you!

Yeah, you'll forgive me if this blog entry is
a) short
b) a bit incoherent
c) a public service announcement.

I woke up very early today, you see, and just came back from giving blood.  You should do this too.  Whatever your country,  or whatever system you use, I bet they need people to go give blood.

I'm sure all of you have, at some point, probably even at least once today, asked yourselves "Gee, I wonder what it's like to donate blood in the nation of Uruguay"?
Well, wonder no more:

Here in Uruguay it amuses me, because like everything else, they do it a bit different in these parts.  Oh, you still do it in a hospital or clinic, but at least at the one I go to they have these insanely comfortable lazy-boy type recliners, a big TV, and coffee.
I was actually offered coffee when I just arrived, asking the nurse if the fact I'd slept less than 4 hours would invalidate me or make me still good to go.  She said "we'll take your blood pressure" (it turned out to be fine, my blood pressure is always fine, believe it or not), and "here, have some coffee".  I was a bit confused, first at there being coffee at the blood bank (cookies sure, juice, but here they had neither of those; apparently in Uruguay they have flavored mineral water, salted crackers, and coffee), and second being that I hadn't actually had any blood drawn yet.

"won't that screw up the blood donation? Aren't I supposed to be fasting for it?"

"Oh, you can have coffee!" she said, as if that was just obvious. Like as in, who in their right mind wouldn't have coffee in this situation?

And it was great coffee.  But to add to the irony and confusion, she asked me how much sugar I wanted.  Seriously?? She was holding like 5 packets, for one euro-style espresso!

It was at this point I was starting to wonder: was I in the right place at all?  Was this all some sort of terrible mistake?  Maybe there had been some confusion, and in my sleep-deprived daze I'd wandered into some kind of exclusive medical-practitioners' cafe/lounge where I was about to cause a small riot by attempting to give blood on what should in fact be their salad bar?

"Aren't you worried about the blood sugar or something? And... you're a nurse, shouldn't you be telling people to take less sugar in their coffee?"  It was easy for me to say, mind you, I only take a little sugar ever anyways.

And she was all like "Oh, it doesn't matter!".

So yeah, either there was some serious incompetence going on or I've been very seriously lied to by blood clinics of days gone by.

Anyways, the rest of the procedure was easy, fast, and might help save a life. And there was even more coffee, after the blood draw was over.   Really, I pity the poor bastard who gets my blood, it's more caffeine and nicotine than man! I just didn't expect such a significant part of the caffeine part of that equation to come from the blood-clinic itself.  But still, the clinic took it just the same and I trust it will go to good use.

So seriously, go be a fucking grownup.  Give blood.  Even if where you are you won't get the leather recliners and espresso.


Currently Smoking: Nothing yet, I was told to wait an hour.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Check out my new Gig!

So, the reason why there wasn't an 'uncracked monday' yesterday (or anymore) can now be revealed:  I've got a new writing job.

Over at, the politics and current-events sister site to The Escapist, I've been hired to be their newest political columnist, or maniac-at-large (every decent magazine needs one!), in a weekly column entitled "Riposte Modernism".  Unlike most of the other columnists there, who write about a specific subject area or theme, I've been given free reign to write about any freaking thing I want. Expect it to be interesting.

So please, check out my first article:  "Postmodernism is Now Killing Its Designers".

And please, feel free to share, repost, 'retweet', or whatever the kids are doing these days to spread the word!


Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti half-volcano + Gawith's Balkan Flake

Monday, 15 December 2014

Is the Apocalypse Fast Approaching??

It just might be.  I'm pretty sure that one of the signs, recorded in ancient scrolls no doubt, is that an event would take place that the RPGPundit and Ron Edwards (founder of the Forge and inventor of bullshit RPG-theories like GNS) would agree upon.  I never believed it possible, but here we are.

Last week I reported to you all how OneBookShelf, the owners of both DrivethruRPG and RPGnow (which, put together into a single monopoly, are by far the largest and most important distributor of PDFs in the tabletop RPG hobby) have apparently caved to pressure of particular influence-groups and banned a product from their virtual shelves.

Over on G+, Ron Edwards had this to say about it:

"There is some bullshit here in the above posts: this constant talk of "well the Drivethrough RPG guy can stock what he wants." If that was all there was to it, then he ... uh, well, he did do that, in the first place. He did stock the game. So pulling it is a reversal. That's what matters.

I can see pulling it if the situation of the game itself changed or was revealed, like the author did something heinous or it turns out to cause cancer, or something. But nothing like that happened.

So we're either talking about someone who did X without really thinking about it, which means his policy or his mental situation at the moment was too foggy (possible but not edifying), or who did X on his own hook for his own reasons, and then it turns out someone else's reasons are stronger to him than his own are. All I see is a variant on the Reagan problem: he didn't mean it in the first place, which is kind of lame considering he's supposed to be running something; or he meant it, in which case caving and reversing it is sort of like not being the boss.

I don't see how the identity of the author, the content of the game, or any specifics of the alleged ethics/values disagreement are relevant. I don't see why they're brought up, why they matter, anything like that. Change all of this to opposite sides of the alleged controversy (Sweetness Smith publishes Story Game Love-Bunny, and Desborough complains to Drivethrough and it's pulled, I dunno). Change it to some completely different issue entirely. Doesn't matter.

Regarding the OBS lockdown on success, well, it seems the old days of Alliance have returned. The single thing I've championed all these years is creator ownership, and I don't mean ass about IP or legalities, I mean real ownership, the creator of the game is the boss of whatever business decisions happen with that game. This is all about why a vendor, a centralized buying-spot, distributorship, is always problematic. Maybe functional, maybe working OK for all parties for the moment, maybe not too bad ... but always, always prone to some kind of fucked-up breakdown because the creator of the game is no longer the boss. I always hated standard distributors and won't use them any more; the stores come direct to me now. I used IPR and Key20, and despite some good moments it always went south - sooner or later the other guy's policy is going to favor him and not you.

Is the Drivethrough guy in a Reagan situation? Yeah. And it renders all this business about "his decision" a complete waste of time. But my beef stands even if he did nothing of the kind. Drivethrough and anything like it is a bad thing in the first place. Desborough and every other author in there gave up his or her power in letting someone else call the shots about the availability of the game in the first place.

So it's the same shit, again. Truly own your work and that means owning its distribution too. If a distributor or equivalent doesn't work for you, meaning they do what you say when it comes to your game, then you just gave up your balls. This is what happens.

I don't think you have to hare off to a centralized chokepoint whose manager by definition does not put your priorities first, and call that the market, or the industry, or the place to be, or any of that. When you do, this is what happens. If collectively we publishers do have to (+Kasimir Urbanski 's point, if I'm reading right), then it's time to burn it down.

It's not a clash of values or subcultures or identities, all that is the piffle of the moment. This is about whether you truly own your fuckin' game."

Incredibly, I find myself in agreement with him.  Until now, the fact that OBS was the largest game in town (in essence, the only game in town, in the sense that if you're shut out of OBS, you stand to lose an enormous percentage of your PDF profitability) was not really a huge problem, because they seemed committed to being a neutral all-access content aggregator.

Now, with this decision, they can't claim that anymore.  And I think it is only a matter of time, having chosen to abandon their neutrality once, before they abandon it again, or are pressured/coerced into abandoning it now that a precedent for doing so has been set and can be used against them if they even try to claim neutrality in the future.

The next time, the pseudo-activist Swine who think of themselves as the natural rulers of the hobby (for its own good, they reason, as their self-styled 'socially conscious' illuminated state means they are obliged to decide for the vast 'unwashed masses' of regular gamers what the rest of us should even be allowed to see, lest our ignorant minds be tainted by material that they personally find offensive or people who they find 'controversial', the bulk of said controversy consisting of being people that ideologically oppose them and their claims), having had a taste of success, will move on to attack someone less marginalized, over objections that are less justifiable, and continue along this trend for as long as they can get away with it; ultimately just finding (and if unable to find it, just inventing it, because honesty means nothing to them) something/anything "offensive" about any RPG writer, publisher or game they don't like and demanding it be banned too.

The assholes who are claiming that this is all about the "free market" right of a business owner to "make his own decisions", in spite of making said claims in a totally mercenary and self-serving way and having never before expressed any similar concern or defense of the free-market system (only now it's suddenly become convenient to them to do so), in spite of the fact that had OBS ruled the other way they'd be shitting all over the idea of the free market and wistfully wishing for some way to take draconian and totalitarian control over the hobby, ultimately have a point of some kind.  This whole problem exists because they were able to pressure the one single quasi-monopoly of PDF-distribution in the RPG hobby into making a terrible call to censor a game these assholes don't like written by someone they don't like.  The choice to make that call is ultimately the choice of the business.
But here's the thing: the real capitalist system abhors monopoly.  In a real 'free market' there must be able competition.  This whole situation is ONLY a problem because while there were once two different PDF-aggregators there's now just one.  If, for example, DTRPG and RPGnow were still two different companies, the natural reaction to this situation would have been that those people unhappy with (say) DTRPG choosing to blacklist a product would have moved their business over to RPGnow.  The very existence of such competition would have caused OBS to think twice about such a boneheaded move in the first place; they only felt safe in censoring a product because they assume that as the only game in town, RPG publishers and RPG customers have no choice: they can either lump it and keep shopping and selling with OBS, or they can quit doing so and watch their business die or their buying options vanish.

So as insane as it seem to me to see myself typing these words, I have to say it.  The OBS situation is so fucked up that it has created the following impossible sentence: Ron Edwards is right.  This is absolutely a distribution problem at its core.

What I can hope, and what I can warn OBS, is that there's nothing inherent in their present situation to suggest that just because they've cornered most of the market now, they will automatically continue to do so in the future.  Keep catering to the whims of the Outrage Brigade, and it will be only a matter of time before someone else decides to put up a shop using your exact same business model, only without the censorship.  And the moment something viable like that emerges, the fact that you've created a situation where any publisher smaller than Evil Hat (and potentially even a few larger than Evil Hat) absolutely SHOULD feel worried about their financial security being in OBS' hands is a situation that will end up blowing up in your faces.  People will walk, as soon as there's a place where they can walk to in a financially viable way.


Currently Smoking: Ben Wade Rhodesian + Image Latakia

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Lords of Olympus: Scrying And Mortal Cabals

In the classical world, I mean in the real historical world of the Greeks and Romans, many forms of what we might term “magic” were either looked upon poorly or directly forbidden.  But divination, which could be said to include both attempts to perceive the future by signs (“augury”), attempts to receive visions of other people or places in the present, and communication with spirits (or even gods), or even the spirits of the dead, in order to receive information and tutelage, was considered a highly honored science.

At the same time, the ancients were quite clear about these sciences being highly complicated, and not something that just anyone could practice.  It was understood that there were both frauds who were clearly fake diviners, and also differing degrees of skilled fortune-tellers, some who had much more talent or expertise than others.  Some of it was believed to depend upon benediction from the Gods (and tied to formal priesthood or initiation in mystery cults), while in other cases there was a suggestion that bloodline could influence one’s raw talent at the art.

In Lords of Olympus the Scrying Power is something that could be seen as the “real” or “ideal” version of this power that mortals can only barely touch upon.  The power-levels related to using Scrying pair up nicely with this, so that mortals can only receive “the vaguest glimpses”, while the gods can gain the most clear visions.  Likewise, in terms of communication, the gods have sufficient power to be able to use Scrying as an inter-dimensional communication system with one another, while mortals can only accomplish the same with extreme difficulty.

The obvious use in a LoO campaign for scrying is to allow PCs to communicate with each other and with NPCs, and (in its Advanced version) even create a magical Gate between themselves and where/who they are scrying with for a shortcut in traveling the multiverse.

But thinking about the above setting-information, a number of interesting ideas arise; its amusing to think that Scrying could also be used in a campaign as a plot device, where Mortals may try to contact a PC as part of mortal magic-use.
Imagine, for example, that a cabal of mortal mages might end up trying to use Scrying as a way to communicate with an immortal to gain said deity as a powerful patron. Or, perhaps in a more sinister motive, to use a young godling for who-knows-what unspeakable blood-rites, or perhaps some kind of a breeding program, or to sacrifice to some supposedly powerful entity.
Its even possible that this could be something weaponized in a Modern or futuristic world; where a government agency aware of the existence of the gods and the viability of magic could try to use Scrying as a way to gather information on these powerful non-human beings they don’t worship as gods, but consider potentially world-threatening beings that need to be studied and perhaps destroyed to protect the security of their civilization!

In general in a Lords of Olympus games, mortals are rarely considered powerful enough to be a real threat to even starting-level Olympian PCs.  But it can be a challenging and interesting experiment for a GM to try to see just how dangerous, powerful, or influential he could make a fully-mortal Secret Order, Cabal, or Government Agency (without relying on going beyond the “rules” of the game or involving actual divine agents).  In my own experience, its the type of thing players (particularly experienced players) will rarely expect.


Currently Smoking: Ben Wade Rhodesian + Image Latakia

(originally posted August 16, 2013; on the old blog)

Saturday, 13 December 2014

RPGPundit Reviews: the 5e Monster Manual

This is a kind of mini-review, by my standards, anyways.  I got the Monster Manual and the DMG for 5th edition last week, after some mailing mix-up, as part of the compensation for my Consulting on 5e.  I'll note, thus (as if anyone out there still didn't know this by now) that I was involved on the 5e project, and that bias should be kept in mind.  Even so, as far as I recall I had no role whatsoever in the design of the monsters (there may have been some very brief chat about design goals, but absolutely nothing to do with the concrete mechanics of the thing), and I think I can be relatively objective within the boundaries of my biases here.

So, this is a review of the new Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual.  It was published by Wizards of the Coast, and Chris Perkins was the lead designer (out of what appears to have been a large team) for this particular book.

I'm not going to go into the usual level of detail for this book, seeing as how most of you reading will already be familiar with D&D in general, and 5th edition in particular.  Suffice it to say, like all 5e rulebooks, the Monster Manual is actually a supplement/expansion of the core Basic D&D rules, which are available for free download on PDF from the Wizards website.

The book is 350 pages long, jam-packed with text and images; its interior is full-color with very impressive art.  The book is a hardcover with a very well-rendered image of a Beholder (in a fight with what we can presume are some player characters) featuring prominently.  The Beholder is, I think, a very good choice for the Monster Manual cover, as it is one of the great iconic D&D monsters, and one we associate with D&D far more exclusively than some of the other popular monsters of the game.

Now, I've never been one of these D&D gamers obsessed with the Monster Manual.  I've never needed more than a few dozen monsters to manage a campaign.  I'm not a sentimentalist here. This might affect my view of things.

So the real question as I see it is not "what is the Monster Manual?", because you all know that already, but rather, how does this Monster Manual compare to what has come before?

Pretty favorably, I'd say.

If we look back at a retrospective: the 1e Monster Manual was quite inspirational in an old-school way, but it was certainly lacking in some of the detail that later editions would have.  The 2e Monstruous Compendium (or whatever it was called) is a favorite of some, but not of mine.  Its over-detailed ecological notes were too impractical for my tastes, and the three-ring binder format was (to me) much more of a hassle than it was worth.  To me, it exemplified a lot of what was bad about post-old-school design.  The 3e Monster Manual was a return to sanity, but I didn't feel it was really ideal either; the art was that kind of irritating 'dungeonpunk' aesthetic that exemplified that edition.  In many cases in all three of these editions, it seemed as though the monsters weren't particularly unique; variances in hit dice or attack bonuses did not necessarily tell you all that much about the playable differences (2e fluff excluded) between one type of humanoid monster and another.  And of course, the 4e monster manual doesn't even count.

In many ways, I think the 5e Monster Manual incorporates some of the best of all the previous editions.  The artwork is amazing. The material, almost everything in it, is strongly playable; there's nothing there that's just flavor-text meant for the GM to be entertained but useless in actual play.  There's plenty of descriptive material, but of the kind you can very directly apply to the PCs' encounters with the monster in question.  And there's very creative elements of individualization for all the monsters: things like descriptions of the creature's lair (sometimes, in cases of very powerful monsters, complete with "lair actions" that can be used to emulate the creature's control of its home environment), motivations for roleplay, and specific and unique tactics and attacks.  The end result is that not only do Kobolds seem very different from Goblins, but Green Dragons seem very different from Red Dragons, and not just because of the type of breath weapon they use.

Are there any details that I think the 5e Monster Manual does less well on than some of the other versions?  Yes; a couple of practical elements in old-school play: number appearing, morale, and treasure types.  I know that there are rules on the last two of these in the DMG, but I'm spoiled on the old Rules Cyclopedia when it came to this.  Ah well, you can't win them all.

The last question is, really, can you use this book if you are not playing 5e and have no intention of playing 5e?
I would say yes.  Statistically, 5e has sufficient similarities to most of the other D&D-variants that conversion would be fairly easy.  There are some clever ideas, like hit die type being determined by size, monster backgrounds, lair information, special abilities, etc. that could easily be introduced as house rules for (for example) an old-school game.  The background and details on many of the monsters is sufficiently novel, interesting, and (most importantly) practical that anyone could be interested in this book as a sourcebook for non-5e play.

That makes this book especially valuable, because it makes it useful even to someone who has no intention of playing 5e.

All in all, the new Monster Manual manages, in my opinion, to be a worthy successor to some of the best to have had that title before it.  As art, as game material, and as inspiration, it's a job well done.


Currently Smoking: Stanwell compact + Image latakia

Friday, 12 December 2014

The First Glimpse at Dark Albion: The Rose War

I'm busy fighting on G+ about how Onebookshelf/RPGnow/DrivethruRPG, the hobby's PDF-sales giant, has decided to stick to their banning of a game that some people in the hobby don't like, and offer no assurances they won't do it again the next time the Outrage Brigade tries to apply pressure.

I'm also working on a short review of the 5e Monster Manual, nothing special, just my thoughts on it.
And I'm busy working on my little surprise that you'll find out about next week, my new project/job.

But more than anything, I'm trying to frantically get work done on Dark Albion.  Dominique Crouzet is ahead of me, and already getting the presentation done for the stuff I've sent him so far.

And holy sweet fuck, it is beautiful.  This might take LoO's title as the prettiest book I've ever had published.

But don't take my word for it; here's one sample page for you to judge for yourself.  It is low-rez and of course the final version will be of much better resolution, but it will give you a very good idea of what the final product will look like:

(click to enlarge)

So yeah, pretty awesome, huh?

Stay tuned for more, and save your pennies for Dark Albion: The Rose War, coming out sometime early next year.


Currently Smoking: Ben Wade Canadian + Image Latakia

P.S.: I know for a fact that Dominique Crouzet would be interested in any work (not necessarily just RPG related) that would relate to his skills in art, layout, etc. So consider this an add for his admirable skills.